Little Millionaires: The Richest Child Stars
by Danielle Samaniego
Child actors are usually peppered into the backgrounds and back stories of television and films for a dramatic or adorable effect, but some kids manage to rise above their adult colleagues with the sheer force of their star power. These seven child actors used their cute factor and talent to rake in millions; they were all rich and powerful before they could even drive.
1. Shirley Temple
The original child star, Shirley Temple epitomized cuteness in her time. She was just three years old when she began acting, in 1932. She became so beloved in films like Bright Eyes and Heidi (and later A Little Princess) that by 1935 she was already picking up a special Academy Award in her honor. She went from a $10-per-day paycheck to making $1,250 per week in 1934, an astounding amount for a child’s salary during that era. Her riches came and went, but she remains one of the founding faces of the adorable-child-actor market.
2. Macaulay Culkin
He was essentially the second coming of Shirley Temple, in male form. This scene-stealer from Uncle Buck sealed his popularity when director John Hughes tapped the precocious boy to play the lead in Home Alone. That film elevated not only Culkin’s asking price (he was the first child actor to net a $1 million paycheck, for his role in My Girl) but also his celebrity status. Like Emmanuel Lewis before him, Culkin became BFFs with Michael Jackson, which was the equivalent of running with royalty at the time. He continues to act today, but he’ll always be adored for his childhood career.
3. The Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen could barely talk when they began to register in popular culture. The baby stars of TV’s Full House shared one role as Michelle Tanner, but behind the scenes, they built an empire together. Leveraging their popularity from the hit show, they started their own company, Dualstar, which allowed them to brand themselves via straight-to-DVD film series, clothes, dolls, and tons of other merchandise. Their fortune grew so large that in 2007 Forbes ranked them collectively as the eleventh-richest women in entertainment, with an estimated net worth of $100 million. They’ve since tried to build careers apart; the jury is still out on their future success.
4. Miley Cyrus
Taking a presumable lesson from the Olsen twins, Cyrus used her popular Disney status to create name recognition and a movie and music career. While she wasn’t the highest-paid child TV star at the time, her Hannah Montana concert tours (which stemmed from her Disney TV show) made her millions. They also cemented her as a teen idol with a real draw, a position she still holds today.
5. Brooke Shields
At fourteen years old, she was the youngest model ever to appear on the cover of Vogue. By the time she was sixteen, she’d already been working as a model and actress for sixteen years and had supposedly earned more money than the president of the United States. Known for her strikingly good looks, Shields made a massive impression on a world known for paying well. Her modeling career opened up opportunities for acting, and she continues to work in television and film today.
6. Dakota Fanning
She broke out as a star holding her own against acting heavyweight Sean Penn in 2001’s I Am Sam. In 2001, at age seven, Fanning became the youngest actress ever to earn a Screen Actors Guild Award, for her portrayal as Penn’s daughter. She’s continued to act in numerous high-profile roles ever since, placing number three on Forbes’ 2009 list of richest young stars. Never one to slow down, Fanning can now be seen in the Twilight film series.
7. Daniel Radcliffe
What else would anyone expect from the kid known as Harry Potter? Radcliffe was just eleven years old when he scored the coveted role in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which all but guaranteed his celebrity rank and high salary. Radcliffe made a name for himself through the Potter films, but he’s since tried to break out into edgier parts. Regardless of his next step, he’s already established a hefty bank account.